Anarchic Linguistic Artistry: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”

Monica Morrey


In 1894, Henry David Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience,” a call for Americans to follow their conscience in protest of the United States governmental policies. In 1930, Mahatma Gandhi sparked civil resistance against British colonization and later used aspects of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” as a tool to explain his philosophy to an English audience. Many people since then have labeled Gandhi’s non-violent movements as significantly inspired by the work of Thoreau; however, this view is largely inaccurate. While Thoreau advocated individual self- responsibility, Gandhi encouraged mass action and community. Arundhati Roy’s novel The God of Small Things (1997), a moral and social indictment of the caste system in India, can be viewed as an artistic exploration into and criticism of the caste system and the government’s abuse of power. Upon examination, the ideals that Roy perpetuates in The God of Small Things are a closer ideological fit to Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” than were the ideals of Gandhi. Roy paints the linguistic vocabulary and syntax of two eight-year-old twins, Rahel and Estha, to render the English language as an “anarchic” form of civil resistance to political and caste issues in India. This paper puts forward the claim that “Civil Disobedience” can function as a tool to further enhance our reading of cultural and linguistic meaning within The God of Small Things. Roy and Thoreau can be seen as kindred spirits, separated by time and situation, but strikingly comparable in their desires and world views.


Arundhati Roy; Henry David Thoreau; Mahatma Gandhi

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